Climate Emergency letter to Ed Miliband

Below is the text of the "Climate Emergency" letter we wrote to Ed Miliband at his Department of Energy and Climate Change, just off Whitehall. This letter was actually our reply to his reply to the letter we handed in at No. 10 Downing street at the National Climate March, last December (see the attachments at the bottom of the page).

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More photos here.

We also handed in a “Climate Emergency” letter (with the help of Colin Challen MP) to every MP in the House of Commons.

 

 

Dear Ed Miliband,

 

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and reply to the letter which we handed in to Number 10 Downing Street, on the occasion of our demonstration last December. We very much appreciate receiving your personal reply.

 

However, we have to say that in all honesty we feel the measures the government is taking to deal with the climate threat, that you outline in your letter, come a long way short of what we now need, to stand a decent chance of avoiding a global climate catastrophe. This does not mean we do not appreciate that some within government may have fought hard for the climate cause, and does not even imply, necessarily, any value judgement on the performance of this government relative to any other government, past or future.

 

Our point of departure is not how well this country has done relative to any other, or how well your party has done relative to any other party, or how well you in government have variously coped with this responsibility as individuals. The only thing that matters in our view is the grave reality of the consequences of failing to do what the latest science is telling us we need to do, to deal with this crisis. If that is simply to acknowledge the brutal truth that this crisis is huge, unprecedented and overwhelming and that it calls for a quite exceptional response from both politicians and from society at large then so be it: however unfair that might seem, that is still the only useful benchmark by which we can judge your government’s policies and performance.

 

For some time the politics of climate change has lagged well behind the science of climate change. The unfortunate truth is that now even the established science of the IPCC lags behind the latest scientific findings, which paint a yet more dangerous and urgent picture. In particular the climate models on which the IPCC reports are based do not take into account most positive feedback effects. The most visible and rapidly evolving feedback effect is the rapid melting of the summer arctic ice, the complete disappearance of which is now estimated to occur in as little as 5 or 10 years rather than the 80 or 100, which would have been a typical estimate only a few years ago. The implications of this are enormous, with an albedo flip potentially leading to very rapid warming of nearby land masses and consequent accelerated melting of the permafrost they contain. This science is outlined by the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC)’s Climate Safety Report (www.climatesafety.org). Release of just 0.1% of the carbon trapped in the permafrost would be enough to cancel out everything we would gain by reducing global emissions by 80% by 2050 There is a very real possibility therefore that we could reach a situation where the situation was quite outside human control within a matter of decades or less.

 

Professor James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute and others tell us that if even if we were to stabilise carbon concentrations at current levels we would still be sliding towards a fundamentally destabilised climate with no reliable way of knowing at what point that slide would become irreversible. They warn

that we need to actually reduce those concentrations to 350 ppm at the most and probably lower. Whilst a global temperature rise limited to two degrees remains a very demanding target, which many believe we are far from on track towards achieving there is no guarantee that remaining within the two degrees increase will be sufficient to prevent a global climate catastrophe. That is no more than an optimistic assumption – and many would feel we need more than optimistic assumptions when potentially billions of lives are at risk.

 

The extreme gravity of the situation is not something we find expressed in typical government discourse, or apparent priorities. The most striking failure of the government, in fact, is that it has not fulfilled its primary duty of communicating the extreme gravity and urgency of the situation to the general public. Where are the hours of government-sponsored prime time TV devoted to explaining the urgency of the crisis? Where is the booklet in every home explaining the gravity of the crisis ? Where is the multi-million pound poster campaign? Where is the solemn broadcast from the Prime Minister or the monarch proclaiming a state of climate emergency ? The government sometimes talks about the need for the public to do its bit, but it has done little to explain to the public the real scale and urgency of the need for action.

 

It is quite clear that the need for action is immediate. There can be no target that can be called safe – there is only the certainty that the more rapidly we move to decarbonise the economy the better chance we have of preventing a global catastrophe. It does not matter how ambitious EU–recommended measures are compared to anyone else’s and it does not matter how tough the climate regime of this country is relative to that in any other country – it only matters whether the action we take measures up to scale of the crisis in the physical world, out there. We believe that immediate action should take the form of deep cuts in emissions in the very short term - for instance a cut of 10% by the end of 2010 ( over and above any reduction due to the, potentially rapidly reversible, factor of economic depression ).

 

That 10% cut really needs to be a global one and that is what we would like to see, or failing that an EU wide cut, but we recognise this is beyond the control of you and the UK government. However we are sure, that you, like us, will recognise the critical nature of this year’s UNFCCC Climate Talks at Copenhagen in December that have been widely billed as our last chance to save the world from catastrophic climate change. That makes action in the UK all the more crucial because that is our best chance to influence others in the international community towards a good conclusion coming from the conference in December. The only way we can effectively lead is by conspicuously resolute and radical example.

 

In this context we should not merely be relying on a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce aviation emissions and we should certainly not be building new airports. We should be acting immediately to reduce demand through a more sensible taxation system and through proactive measures like the phasing out of patently unjustifiable internal flights (except for emergencies) by the end of 2010. Such a measure would have the added benefit of sending a clear message about the urgency which the government feels the situation demands.

 

At the same time the government could redirect the money earmarked for the road building program towards upgrading the public transport system with determined efforts to move substantial numbers off the roads and onto public transport – including subsides for the latter if necessary. Introducing a 55 mile an hour national speed limit would be another way to reduce emissions at a stroke, as well as, once again, signifying to the public how seriously the government is taking the threat from catastrophic climate change.

 

Reduction of emissions from coal burning is rightly seen by many as the most critical challenge we face in terms of tackling climate change globally. Your decision to ban new unabated coal-fired power stations represents an important step in the right direction, which we applaud, but building new coal-fired power stations without 100% CCS (or close) is a recipe for disaster. It is very unlikely the government of the time will close down any such new power plants if full scale CCS is found to be unworkable or hopelessly uneconomic. CCS should be used to reduce the emissions of existing coal-fired power stations, not as an excuse to build new coal-fired power stations. All new electrical power capacity should come from renewable sources or proven 100% CCS and if necessary we should be prepared as a nation to bite the bullet and pay more for our power or to bring about a reduction in demand.

We believe the production of agro-fuels, meanwhile, continues to contribute to the rapid deforestation which is one of the greatest sources of emissions globally. Many independent organisations were highly critical of the recommendations of the Gallagher Review, and there are serious questions about the influence of commercial interests within the Renewable Fuels Agency which played a key role in the production of the report. But in any case measures in the Renewable Energy Directive's (RED) 10% target for 2020 do not meet with the conditions recommended in the Gallagher Review: all indirect land use change emissions will be ignored until the end of 2017 for most bio-fuel refineries which opened before the end of 2012. And, unless the Commission proposes a formula for calculating such emissions (which they have not done as yet), indirect land use change will be ignored completely. It will also be illegal for the UK government to 'discriminate' against bio-fuels grown at the expense of bio-diverse natural forests not classed as 'primary forests', or for example, ones which have lead to further destruction of the Brazilian Cerrado. The Gallagher Review warned against introducing a higher (e.g. 10%) EU bio-fuel target for 2020 without a 'sustainability review' in 2014 but under EU legislation, there will be no review of the 2020 target. Finally, under the EU legislation, 'verification' will be confined to self-reporting by companies, audited by consultants which they choose to pay. There will be no independent auditing, rendering the few criteria which have been agreed effectively meaningless. The RED does not require member states to impose bio-fuel targets for the transport sector in the interim and it is our understanding that abolishing or suspending the RTFO would not contravene EU law. We believe that this is the only way of preventing the UK from further contributing to increased emissions linked to deforestation, peat drainage and other ecosystem destruction, as well as agro-chemical use. These very substantial emissions are all the more significant not for not being factored into conventional ‘carbon budgets’.

False solutions like agro-fuels will not help us make the global transition to a low carbon economy, a goal we need to be pursue with the utmost urgency, since the lives of so many will depend on how fast we and the world can make that transition. Yet this overriding urgency has a flip side that represents a golden opportunity. You, yourself, correctly note that moving to a low carbon economy represents a massive opportunity in terms of new employment opportunities in the green economy. We believe, however, that the government should be acting with much greater urgency and vigour, inaugurating a massive program for something in the order of a million and a half new ‘green’ jobs in the very short term – to create renewable capacity, to retro-fit the existing housing stock with insulation, to revolutionise public transport, and to do all the things we need to do de-carbonise the economy at a much faster rate than generally considered up to now. Instead of this, the reality at the moment is that only a rather small proportion of the money the government has put towards reviving the economy is serving the additional, ultimately more critical purpose, of preventing a global climate disaster. When we could have win-win we have instead, for instance, enormous sums dedicated to more road-building schemes.

 

Finally we agree that action is needed not just by governments but also by people, and as a campaigning group our very existence derives from our recognition of the need for popular pressure. However, in this situation of dire climate emergency those who have accepted public office have a responsibility to lead, not just to react to public pressure but to do what is right. We do not accept the argument that politicians can only do what is ‘politically practical’. Politicians need to be prepared to put the need for action on climate before their political careers – if enough of them were prepared to sacrifice the latter for the former then we might begin to move towards a situation where practical solutions that matched the scale of the crisis were really on the table, instead of where we are now, sliding inexorably towards a catastrophe of a scale quite unprecedented in human history.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Phil Thornhill

National Coordinator, Campaign against Climate Change

 

 

George Monbiot,

Honorary President, Campaign against Climate Change

 

 

Tamsin Omond

Climate Rush

 

All files are in Microsoft Word (.doc) format.

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